Copper’s history is well documented, and in fact the antimicrobial properties it exhibits have been known about since ancient times. It was popular in ancient times because it could be manipulated without smelting. The Smith papyrus notes the use of copper as early as 2600 to 2200 BC, where it was used to sterilize drinking water and chest wounds. Many ancient cultures used copper for these and other similar purposes – the Greeks, Aztecs and others were savvy enough to apply the properties to treating burns, intestinal worms, headaches, and even ear infections. When smelting was invented copper continued to find use by being blended with tin to form bronze. By the second millennium BC, bronze was already widely in use in Europe. Even long after iron and other metals supplanted its popularity and wide use, copper was found to be resistant to cholera, and in the 19th and 20th century a variety of inorganic copper preparations found use. These factored into treating impetigo, eczema, lupus, syphilis, tubercular infections, and more ailments. It is no wonder then that antimicrobial compression sleeves are offering a plethora of health benefits.
Oddly, copper’s self-sanitizing properties didn’t catch on quite as well in recent decades, although a renewed interest prompted by a number of factors is now strongly present. One central issue being confronted is the spread of antibiotically-resistant microorganisms. Because of selective pressure, microorganisms have adapted to be able to resist many exiting antibiotic treatments, which spells big trouble for hospitals, residences, food processing plants, and even animal breeding facilities – all of these places can no longer consistently rely on the old methods of preventing infection, and so new approaches like the use of copper for antimicrobial surfaces are needed. The combined necessity and continued effectiveness of copper as a contact-killing antimicrobial surface have resulted in this renewed interest in this application.
Copper is an essential trace element that is part of more than 30 proteins. However, copper ions also have certain properties that can prove toxic, and this is what is tapped into when using copper for antimicrobial purposes. For instance, the toxic effects of copper have made it useful for fighting bacteria and fungi-related diseases in agriculture. Current attention on copper’s antimicrobial properties was heightened in 2008 when the EPA registered 300 types of copper surfaces as antimicrobial, supported by studies before and after this development that showed various noteworthy microbial “killing kinetics” seen in copper and copper-alloy surfaces’ interactions with various bacteria.
Places that is perceived to benefit largely from the findings about antimicrobial compression socks and sleeves, are hospitals and related health care environments. Many touch surfaces here are susceptible to contamination, from door handles to call buttons to toilet seats. Currently simple methods like persistent round-the-clock cleaning are helping to diminish the transmission of infections from bacteria, but ones like staphylococcus aureus have been shown to linger and persist on surfaces for months despite all that. Many noscomial infections have also become a risk thanks to various antibiotic-resistant organisms. Copper is being looked at as an alternative to the currently-popular material, which is stainless steel. The latter has long been integral in hospital design and construction because of its clean appearance and ease of cleaning, but has no particularly special antimicrobial properties. This is why some initial hospital trials using copper and copper-alloy materials such as compression sleeves act as an antimicrobial surface have been undertaken, with promising results. For example, the bacterial infection from copper-coated toilet seats, copper compression sleeves, brass door push plates, and brass tap handles were compared with that from the same items but plastic, aluminum or chrome-plated versions, and the former were found to be 90 to 100 percent lower than the latter.
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